Customer Service Is the New Marketing: Interview with “Hug Your Haters” Author Jay Baer

Customer Service Is the New Marketing: Interview with “Hug Your Haters” Author Jay BaerJay Baer is a noted authority on just about everything related to digital marketing. He is a best-selling author, internationally-known speaker, hype-free marketing strategist, and president of the social media and content marketing consultancy Convince & Convert.

Fast Company magazine ranked him as one of America’s top three social media consultants, and the Content Marketing Institute lists the Convince and Convert blog as the world’s number one content marketing resource.

I’ve known Jay for the better part of 10 years, when we first met at a MarketingProfs’ conference in Chicago and talked shop for hours. I saw him again at the inaugural Coastal Social conference in Baton Rouge, in 2010, where he moderated a panel on social media marketing, in which I participated. Since then, we’ve kept in touch via, what else, social media!

Jay recently published a new book, “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers,” which is hailed as the first modern book on customer service. It currently holds the number nine spot for all books in the customer service category at Amazon.

He took a few moments to sit down with me to address some questions about the book.

Before we get into a discussion about the book, could you tell our readers about your background and how you got started in marketing?

My degree is in political science. I started my career managing political campaigns then quickly realized that was a tough racket, so I moved to “regular” marketing in 1990 and started in digital marketing way back in 1994. I’ve had the good sense to stay in digital ever since! Convince & Convert is the fifth marketing services firm I’ve started or managed during that time.

Hug Your Haters is not your first book. Could you tell us about others you’ve written during your career?  

My first book was “The Now Revolution,” written with Amber Naslund. It’s all about social media and social business and is probably more relevant today than when we published it. My second book was “Youtility,” which dealt with content marketing and making your marketing useful. I wrote two category-specific books on that concept as well: “Youtility for Accountants” and “Youtility for Real Estate.”

What is the premise behind Hug Your Haters and what led you to write it?

I discovered through my consulting practice that customer service is being disrupted in the same way that marketing has been, by Millennials, mobile and social media. Today, customer service is increasingly becoming a spectator sport. This requires companies to totally rewire how they practice customer service. Most have not done so, however, and are using a 1995 playbook to try to solve modern customer issues. Hence, the book.

You indicate that the book is grounded in research and based on an extensive number of interviews. Why did you take that approach?

Eighty percent of companies say they deliver exceptional customer service, yet only eight percent of their customers agree. That statistic, from Bain, demonstrates that most companies don’t think they need to get better at customer service.

Taking that statistic at face value, why the disconnect?

The disconnect is because when you ask a company whether it is great at customer service, it thinks about that question in comparison to its competitors: “Yeah, we’re better than those guys” they think.

When you ask a customer whether that same company is great at customer service, he doesn’t think in comparison to other companies in the category, he thinks about it in comparison to all companies. So what happens is that the best companies in the world are training your customers on what is possible in customer service, and that’s what they expect from you.

Thus, when writing a book on the topic I wanted to make sure that the recommendations and findings were grounded in fact and research, not anecdote and opinion. I worked with Edison Research on a landmark, proprietary study into the science of complaint. Who complains, where, why, and how. The findings are the spine of Hug Your Haters.

What were some other significant findings, based on the research?

The research found that when customers do not get an answer, it decreases their advocacy on behalf of that brand by as much as 50 percent. Conversely, when they do receive a reply, it increases advocacy by as much as 25 percent.

The Internet — social media in particular — have given rise to an increase in complaints, and many businesses feel they have to “pick their battles” in choosing how to respond to criticism, ignoring some while answering others. You say that approach is a major mistake. Why?

Because when you don’t reply in social, you are essentially kissing that customer goodbye. And simultaneously a lot of onlookers can see that you didn’t answer, and it can have a negative impact on their perception of the company too. Remember that no response is a response. It’s a response that says “we don’t care about you, at all.”

In the book, you list two types of haters, offstage and onstage. Could you explain what you mean by those terms?

Offstage haters complain in private, via phone and email. They expect an answer 90 percent of the time. Onstage haters complain in public (social media, review sites, et al). They expect an answer 47 percent of the time. When you do answer a customer complaint in social media and related channels, it blows those customers’ minds and wins their hearts.

What are the obstacles that may prevent a company from providing an excellent standard of customer service?

Many, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that customer service has been nothing more than a necessary evil for generations of business leaders.

Could you name a couple of companies that serve as examples of providing excellent customer service?

One of my favorite examples from the book is Discover Card, which in an industry (financial services) not known for its customer service prowess, set out to be the very best. They answer all customers, in all channels, within 20 minutes.

Any customer service horror stories from the book that you’d care to share?

A florist in Melbourne, Australia messed up a bride’s bouquet and sent her the wrong flowers. On her one year anniversary, her husband ordered the flowers again, and the same florist delivered a dead batch.

The woman was upset and sent a long email to the florist explaining the situation. She was not complaining or being dramatic or overly negative, but just pointing out that this was the second disappointment. The letter was probably 600 words long.

The reply from the florist was more succinct. It read, “Do not ever contact us again.” She posted it to social media, it went viral, and you can imagine the rest.

What are some “must-dos” regarding customer service? Of that list, is there one that outshines the others?

Understand that customer service is the new marketing. Put the appropriate level of resources into customer service. Answer every question, on every channel, every time.

Conversely, what are some things that companies should avoid when it comes to customer service?  

Being too slow on the phone and email. It causes people to then complain in public (social, in particular). Also, having a presence on a social channel, but not being able to do customer service on those channels. Remember, customers aren’t always right. But they always deserve to be heard.

Lastly, what are the real benefits that a company can experience by hugging its haters?

I document five in the book, but the two biggest are customer advocacy (which equals MONEY) and customer insights (which equals customer experience, which ultimately yields MONEY). This isn’t a feel-good thing; it’s just smart business.

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